Hot take: traditional closure is a myth.
You know what I mean—people break up, friendships end, and they have a finale they deserve. You grew apart instead of together, but at least you got answers as to why it all ended, right?
It’s what we expect. But that’s never how it happens, at least for me. I expect silence from, say, a person I went on a couple dates with. When it’s someone you’ve shared time and memories with though, the silence hits differently.
I recently had my first real, painful friend breakup. I’m no stranger to losing friends (oh God, maybe I shouldn’t declare this), but come on—I’ve been to high school. I knew what it was like to lose friendships with people that I never really suspected would be in my life for the long haul anyway. I thought I was finally at a point in my life where I had solidified who I liked to spend my free time with. I had plans for who would be in my wedding party and who I would go to bingo with when I was in my 90s.
Then 2020 happened. I’ll spare the dramatic details, but one of my closest friends and I had differences in how seriously we were taking the pandemic. (This is a great time to remind everyone to please stay home if you can and wear a mask if you can’t. People are dying, and we need to be taking this seriously, as if our lives and our family’s lives depend on it. Because they do.) I knew the ~vibe~ was off between us, but I didn’t realize to what extent. Then one day, she left my text group chat and sent out a Twitter thread aimed at me. I know, but again, this was 2020. Stranger things had happened.
I didn’t know what to do. It felt really sudden, and I was upset. What stung the most was that she didn’t want to talk to me about it—the end of the friendship was on her terms, and I had no say in the matter.
I wished she had reached out, and I wished I could have had answers from her. Where was the conversation? Where were the goodbyes? Where was the closure?
My first instinct was to let out all my feelings in a letter. I wrote out three full pages of how I felt. As a writer, I needed to put my words on paper to really comprehend what was going on and the fact that this was it for our friendship. But also as a writer, part of what I thrive off of is people reading my work. (I love an audience!) So doing what I do best, I drove to her house in the middle of the night to leave my letter on her windshield.
And you know what? It felt good. For the first time, it felt like I had a say in this friend breakup. It wasn’t the closure I wanted, but I was able to give myself the closure I needed.
I was going to send the letter and never think about it again, but before dropping it off, I read it to my mom. She said the writing was so good that I needed to take a picture of it. (I told you I love an audience!)
I ended the letter, and my friendship, with this:
“It’s very clear to me that you don’t want to be friends. Maybe one day that’ll change. But I really, really, really care about you and your family. I hope you and they know that. This letter may be dramatic, but the way I feel needs to be released somehow. I wish you the best.”
I thought about the last time I wrote someone a letter, and it turns out this is a common theme in my life. I had a three-month relationship in college. It was my first boyfriend, and even though I knew we would never last, he broke up with me out of nowhere. I typed a 2,000-word essay reflecting on the relationship and my feelings, asked all my friends if I should email it to him, listened to them all unanimously say no, and emailed it to him anyway.
That was my first real experience with closure. My first boyfriend was the one to end the relationship, so it only felt right that I get an outlet to express the emotions that I was feeling, too. I let the words flow onto the document, ending my essay by recognizing the growth I’d experienced because of this relationship.
The words initially took me by surprise. It was a conclusion I’d been unable to come up with—or maybe refused to—until I put myself at the forefront: What am I feeling? Why am I feeling this? What’s next, because it’s just me and you from here, buddy!!!
He never replied, but for the first time, it was the exact ending I had hoped for—I said what I needed to say.
Both my friendship and my relationship were cut short, and it wasn’t my decision. What was my decision, though, was the way I reacted to it and chose to define it.
I mean it when I say traditional closure is a myth. No one is ever going to give you the answers you need to hear. Closure can’t come from someone else, because it’s our own journey we have to take. I always thought that when there are two people in a relationship, the ending has to involve both parties, just like the beginning and middle do. But the truth is, it’s only you all along—you defined how you saw the relationship from the start, and you still have control of how you see its end, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Closure is coming to terms with a breakup by yourself, in whatever means works for you.
Apparently for me, it always involves a strongly-worded letter.
Photo by Craig Hall for New York Mag